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Private lives and patriotism: a study of attitudes to sex and venereal disease in wartime Britain, 1914-1918

Payne, Emily Sarah (2005) Private lives and patriotism: a study of attitudes to sex and venereal disease in wartime Britain, 1914-1918. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.86334) (KAR id:86334)


This thesis explores the connections which were drawn between sexual morality and patriotism in Britain during the Great War. Sexual behaviour and sexual health were believed to impact on the nation's moral standing, and on the pursuit of the war. Private behaviour and sexual health were scrutinised and criticised, and attempts were made to eradicate behaviour and sexual diseases which were perceived to be a threat to the nation in terms of security, moral standing, or military success. Nominally private behaviour, therefore, became a public concern. Themes addressed include gender roles; constructions of masculinities and femininities; race, nation, and patriotism; and the relationship of the state and the individual. Subjects investigated include military policy; Regulation 40D of the Defence of the Realm Act; female police and patrols; the libel trial of Noel Pemberton Billing; the `war babies' panic; and the work of the Royal Commission on Venereal Disease and National Council for Combating Venereal Disease. A variety of contemporary sources is used in order to assess wartime attitudes, including Parliamentary Debates, official records, medical records, memoirs, and the press. The thesis takes a historiographically new approach, in order to offer a broad and comparative study, and draws different conclusions from those of previous histories. Alongside `problematic' sexualities, sexual practices, and sexual ill-health, this thesis considers attitudes to, and the regulation of, heterosexual, married, and procreative sex, and those behaviours which were representative of the majority of the population. It also asserts that the aligning of morality with patriotism was to be found in popular, religious, and journalistic arguments, but was also deeply entrenched within the legislation and official discourses of the British state. Chapter One investigates governmental and military policy and laws regarding sex and venereal disease among British military personnel and civilians, and the often hostile responses to these measures. Chapter Two examines responses to sexual behaviour on the home front which was believed to be a danger to national security or to the war effort. Chapter Three addresses wartime opinions about marriage, illegitimacy, procreative sex, and the moral and patriotic demands upon women. Chapter Four investigates attitudes to sex as represented in soldiers' memoirs, and the constructions of masculinities. Chapter Five discusses contemporary reactions to perceived moral and medical crises, and explores solutions which were advocated for these problems. The thesis concludes by assessing the overarching themes in responses to sex and morality during the war. The Epilogue to the thesis addresses the longer period, briefly examining contrasts between attitudes to sexual behaviour in the First and Second World Wars, and drawing out similarities in ideological and linguistic responses to sex and morality during the First World War, and those expressed during the AIDS crisis in Britain in the 1980s.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Connelly, Mark L.
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.86334
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 09 February 2021 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Subjects: D History General and Old World
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of History
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 29 Oct 2019 16:52 UTC
Last Modified: 09 Dec 2022 18:14 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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